March is National Nutrition month! All of us at The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults encourage you to stay active every day but we want to take this opportunity to challenge you to eat healthier too. All month long, people around the nation are revisiting their diets and creating plans for dining with cleaner and greener meals. Amongst the many discussions of what you should and shouldn’t be eating, new research claims that the consumption of certain foods will reduce your risk of cancer. The sources behind these anti-cancer diets offer a variety of perspectives on the matter. To help you cut though the fog, we connected with an oncology dietitian, Keri Ryniak, to shine light on the “anti-cancer diet”.
UCF: Do foods known as “super foods” (blueberries, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, etc.) really contain enough antioxidants and vitamins to be considered “anti-cancerious”?
Keri: I believe that all fruits and vegetables are super foods
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that have anti-cancer properties. However, each fruit and vegetable differs in the amount and type of anti-cancer compounds that they contain. For instance, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, kale), have vitamin C, folate, and fiber, all of which are considered to have anti-cancer properties. Broccoli also has the phytochemical sulforaphane. If someone were to consume only broccoli or kale because of their anti-cancer properties, they may limit their intake of other phytochemicals. Red or orange peppers contain carotenoids, and edemame beans contain genistein, all of which could be considered “super foods”.
One of my favorite quotes is from Jane M. Horowitz, “For optimum health, scientists say, eat a rainbow of colors. Your plate should look like a box of Crayolas.” That pretty much sums it up. It is important to consume a varied diet, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. I try to steer patients away from following the latest “super food” craze. Instead, I tell them to focus on choosing a varied intake.
UCF: Can eating saturated fats really increase my risk of cancer?
Keri: Excess fat intake may lead to becoming overweight or obese statuses, which is known to increase the risk of developing many cancers, especially breast and colorectal cancer. The general recommendation for saturated fat intake is <7% of total daily calories for overall good health. If saturated fat intake is high, it may replace healthy unsaturated fats such as canola and olive oil.
Excess fat intake is also associated with inflammation. When the body is in a state of inflammation, it is not in an optimal state to protect against cancer. Some fats are anti-inflammatory. These fats are Omega-3, found in walnuts, canola or olive oil, or fatty fish.
UCF: Cooking vegetables is said to greatly lower their nutritional value. Is that the case? If so, should we ask ourselves how many RAW fruits and veggies do we need to eat each day?
Keri: The most important thing is to eat fruits and vegetables-period. A general recommendation for prevention of cancer is 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Although cooking vegetables may cause a small decrease in nutrients, any intake is associated with decreased cancer risk. Some vegetables have improved nutrient composition after cooking. Two examples are carrots and tomatoes. Most people are familiar with lycopene. Lycopene is a phytochemical that is formed when tomatoes are cooked.
Remember the following tips about cooking vegetables:
- Steaming is most beneficial.
- If boiling, boil the water first and boil for no more than 5 minutes.
- Boil whole, instead of chopping or cut vegetables, or with skin on.
- Use just enough water to prevent scorching
UCF: Will becoming a vegetarian lower my risk of cancer? Are there any diets that will lower my risks?
Keri: At present time, there is no scientific evidence to show that a vegetarian diet reduces cancer risk. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), red meat intake of < 18 ounces cooked per week does not increase risk of cancer.
To reduce the risk of developing cancer, AICR recommends a diet high in plant foods. Plant foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Limit red meat intake to < 18 ounces per week and avoid processed meat. It is also important to choose healthy fats and to avoid excess salt and sugar.
Maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity are also important in cancer prevention.
This month we challenge you to eat more fruits and vegetables to lower the amount of fats you consume and to keep exercising! By taking a proactive stance in preventing and fighting cancer, you’ll be taking an important step towards becoming the happiest, healthiest version of yourself!
Cancer Changes Lives…So Do We!